Born on the Fourth of July
Patriotism, bravery, freedom, are all words to help describe the qualities of the United States. As Americans, we all have a sense of loyalty and respect toward our county. What happens when one comes to the realization that our country stands for one thing, but in all reality means something different? This is the trap that Ron Kovic was sucked into during his experience in the Vietnam War. Kovic started out like most Americans. He had great pride and love for his country – probably more so than most people. Unfortunately, like many Vietnam War veterans, Kovic came to the conclusion that America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. During and after the Vietnam War, Kovic’s view of the war and of his country changed dramatically. Kovic was not proud of what he had done in Vietnam and felt nothing but regret. Throughout the book, Born on the Fourth of July, Kovic describes the multiple events that caused him to become an antiwar activist. Kovic’s view of the Vietnam War changed dramatically due his feelings of guilt, remorse, and rejection. Every traumatic event that Kovic experienced put more hate in his heart for the Vietnam War and for Americans.
As a young child, Ron Kovic, dreamed of the day he could join the Marine Corps. He and his friend would study exquisite pamphlets with very sharp looking marines on the covers, and daydream of the day that they too would become Marines (56). During Kovic’s adolescent years, his dream was to become someone that people could look up to and respect, and he felt that serving the United States was a great way to accomplish his goal. There had always been a part of Kovic that took great pride in the United States, and he hoped that one day he would be able to serve his country. Kovic’s dream finally became reality. In September 1964, the paperwork was completed and Kovic was officially registered to become a Marine (75). Although Kovic was fulfilling his lifetime dream, he could have never prepared himself for how his decision to become a Marine would affect the way he viewed America and forever change the way he lived his life.
Kovic’s first glimpse of a change in attitude towards the war occurred on the battlefield in Vietnam. During a violent firefight, the corporal of Kovic’s troop was shot and killed. Not only was the corporal killed, but Kovic also thought he might have been the one who shot the corporal. It was at this time that Kovic first questioned why he was in Vietnam fighting for his country. This particular incident made Kovic realize that innocent people were being killed. Killing the corporal had a strong impact on him because for the first time he had killed one of the “good” guys, and not the Communist enemy. After Kovic shot the corporal, he admitted to the major that he believed he was the one who killed the corporal. When Kovic did this, the major reassured him that it could get very confusing on the battlefield and that most likely Kovic did not kill the corporal (193). As a result, the major gave Kovic a second chance and made him feel better about what happened on the battlefield that day. In the book, Kovic states that after talking to the major, his thoughts of killing the corporal had begun to fade. That night, Kovic wrote in his diary how lucky he was to be in Vietnam fighting for America (198). Although Kovic had begun to forget about killing the corporal and was again feeling about participating in Vietnam War, he was just in a state of denial. It would only be a matter of time before Kovic would again question the war in Vietnam. The killing of the corporal would soon start to subconsciously eat away at Kovic.
Consequently, Kovic would not be able to block the killing of the corporal out of his mind for long. An incident far more severe would jog his memory and again make Kovic think twice about the value of fighting in the war. The tragic event took place one night when Kovic and his troops were out on patrol. On that particular night, Kovic’s lieutenant thought they had come upon an enemy campground and he ordered them to blow up the campsite. Kovic and his men carried out the orders only to discover that they had killed a tent full of innocent children and an old man (204-205). After this incident, Kovic was never the same. He began to again feel guilty about killing the corporal and remorseful for killing the children (210). Kovic’s lieutenant did not make him feel any better by telling troops to shut up and stop crying about what they had done. I am sure the fact that the lieutenant reacted that way showed Kovic that American’s did not care about hurting other innocent people because they just wanted to win the war. It was at this time that Kovic began to realize that he did not want to be in Vietnam fighting for his country, and the only thing he could think about was how to get out of Vietnam alive.
The preceding two events were the beginnings of Kovic changing his views of the war. These two events lead Kovic to decide that he did want to put his life on the line for his country (210). It was a combination of guilt and remorse that first influenced Kovic’s change in attitude towards the Vietnam War. His attitude quickly went from being willing to die for America to intentionally putting himself at physical risk. If he were injured, without being mortally wounded, he would have an avenue for a medical discharge.
The day that Kovic had longed for finally came. He was shot by the enemy and the seriousness of his wounds enabled him to receive his desired medical discharge. The first time Kovic was shot, it went through his foot but he continued to fire at the enemy. Then it happened. The bullet that would change Kovic’s life forever struck through his right shoulder, pierced his lung, and shattered his spinal cord (222). As Kovic lay in the marshes, of Vietnam the only thing he could think about was that he might die at that moment for nothing (222). While Kovic lay there thinking it was the end, he was finally able to voice what had been in heart since the day he shot the corporal – fighting in Vietnam was doing nothing do help America. This was a major emotional turning point for Kovic because he was beginning to admit to himself that he had a change of heart. Although fighting in the Vietnam War almost took his life, Kovic began to realize that he did not agree with the war.
After Kovic was shot and paralyzed from the chest down, his life turned upside down and his resentment towards the Vietnam War grew immensely. It was in the hospital that Kovic got his first glimpse of how Vietnam veterans were treated. In the VA hospital, the doctors and nurses were always laughing, yelling, and disrespecting the patients (41-42). The hospital was filthy and the veterans were treated like they were worthless. At this point, Kovic was shocked to see how much disrespect he received from the doctors and nurses. The disregard of the patients, greatly contributed to Kovic’s change in attitude. However, the disrespect that Kovic received in the Veteran’s hospital was only a sample of what was to follow from his fellow American citizens.
Although Kovic was able to admit to himself that he had begun to change his views on the war in Vietnam, he was still putting on a front for his family and friends by telling them that the pain and suffering was worth it because he had helped America (41). Kovic encountered more feelings of rejection before he is pushed over the edge and fully gained strong convictions that the war in Vietnam was wrong.
The disapproval towards Kovic did not stop in the hospital, but continued to haunt him when he returned to his childhood town. It was upon Kovic’s return home that he realized many of his fellow citizens did not view him as a war hero. Kovic and another injured veteran participated in a parade in honor of those who fought in Vietnam. Kovic expected people to be waving and cheering for him since he had risked his life to fight for their country, but to his disappointment, all he received was blank looks from his fellow countrymen. Not only was Kovic not welcomed home, but also when his escorts tried to help him out of car, they carelessly flung his paralyzed body around almost dropping him (106). The fact that Kovic was shown so much disrespect and no apprieceiation continued to push him towards becoming an antiwar activist.
After the parade, Kovic had to sit and listen to business men who knew nothing about the Vietnam War. The men at the microphone did not participate in the war, and had no right to be standing up and preaching to the American people about what was going on in Vietnam. Kovic wanted to be the one telling people about what had gone on in Vietnam because he had witnessed it first hand (107). This was another slap in the face for Kovic, and it deepened his hate for the war in Vietnam.
Not only did Kovic feel rejection from his country, but because he was paralyzed, he also felt unworthy and rejected by women. Kovic was very frustrated by the fact that he was not able to have sexual relations with women. Kovic had made many sacrifices for the good of his country only to come home as a beaten, paralyzed warrior and feel rejected by women. Because of his paralyze, Kovic felt that women looked at him funny and that they would never want to push him around in a wheelchair (112). Kovic wanted nothing more then to be close to women and because he couldn’t do that made him furious. When people feel rejected by something that is important to them, they will take their anger out on what they feel to be the cause of their pain. This is exactly what Kovic did – the Vietnam War made him paralyzed, so because he feels rejected by women he is going to do everything in his power to retaliate.
Unfortunately, Kovic was finding it very hard to deal with his war injury. He was now turning to alcohol in order to escape his problems. Kovic even went as far as Mexico to try to forget about the war. No matter where Kovic went or what he did, nothing seemed to make him feel fulfilled. Finally, when Kovic was sent the VA hopital a second time, he became 100% sure that what he had done in Vietnam was not appreciated by anyone and it was time to take a real stand against the Vietnam War. Kovic quotes, ” But the hospital changed it all that. It was the end of whatever belief I’d still had in what I’d done in Vietnam. Now I wanted to know what I had lost my legs for, why I and the others had gone at all” (134). Kovic’s conviction suddenly put a purpose back into his life. All the guilt, remorse, and disrespect that Kovic had encountered over the past year had all built up inside of him and he was ready to stand up for what he believed in! The Vietnam War had caused Kovic so much pain and suffering that he was ready to stand up and show Americans what was happening over in Vietnam.
Kovic changes in his attitude of the Vietnam War did not happen over night, it was a serious of events that made him full of hatred. The fact that Kovic felt guilty, remorseful, and rejected had a strong impact on him wanting to speak out against the war. The war in Vietnam did not go the way Kovic had hoped. He had killed a fellow American, took the lives of innocent children, and was disrespected by his countrymen. Kovic had gone into the Vietnam War ready to the people of America and got nothing in return ..wouldn’t that make anyone become an antiwar activist?